For the past three months, Sophia Cheng has been leading a volunteer effort, relying on young, and sometimes shy and awkward, Chinese youth. They are going door to door, practicing their Cantonese or Mandarin, and engaging people who don’t vote in every election.
“A lot of times people are registered but they actually have never voted, or they’re not getting their materials in language because they didn’t know how to ask for them in the first place," says Cheng, an organizer with the Chinatown Community for Equitable Development. "So for a lot of us, it’s just to break it down, explain it in their own language, make them comfortable, encourage them to vote and let them know that they do have a right to vote.”
Cheng says many of the Chinatown residents they’re seeing have already been reached by phone and in person — but they need a little nudging. Their odds are good, though. According to L.A.’s Asian Pacific American Legal Center, so far, 86 percent of Asian voters already reached say they will vote in this election.
“Chinatown just as a neighborhood, demographically, steers a lot older than a lot of other neighborhoods in L.A.," adds Cheng. "But we’ve been talking to everyone — I think last time we spoke to someone who’s 18 who’d just registered to vote, all the way to people are retired and in their 80s.”
These volunteers may be ethnically Chinese, but few have solid Cantonese and Mandarin skills, so they’re practicing how to say the translations for “proposition” and “taxes." That’s important, since they’re also encouraging voters to vote "yes" on Proposition 30, the tax increase inititiave to fund schools and public safety services.